384 The Breaking Storm

Charles’ situation in August looked dire. But at Shrewsbury, soldiers came to his call, arms reached him from Henrietta Maria, and in October he had an army, and set of to march on London. In his way stood Essex and the army of parliament

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The Battle of Edgehill

If you are interesting in more information about the battle,a good place to go is often the page at the Battlefield Trust. 




Last time, we heard about how the English reluctantly but seemingly inexorably drifted to war, despite the uncomprehending feeling on the part of most that surely king and parliament could sort this out. We heard about how most tried to avoid making a choice but many were reluctantly forced to; certainly King, and probably parliament were now committed, although a shot has yet to be fired. Although it’s impossible to make hard and fast rules about what kind of people plumped for each side, in general royalists fought for tradition, the preservation of the social hierarchy and the Elizabethan church of England – despite not really sharing Charles view of what that meant in practice. Parliamentarians fought for their ‘true religion’ and for liberty, and the principle of consent between subject and sovereign. We saw Charles’ increasingly frustrated efforts to raise an army at York, through Lincolnshire, to Nottingham where he finally seized the nettle and raised the standard of war – to an square of about 30 wet and windblown audience.

Well, today gentle listeners, after all the talking we are going at last to see some blood spilled. I assume this is a good thing, I have sensed some impatience at the lack of death and destruction, and if so – well, you have come to the right place.

Last time we left the king in quite a dark place, a wet and windy day in Nottingham, normally the sort of things reserved for stag dos in what has become known as the stag party centre of the UK, and a rather dismal ceremony declaring war on his own people. His recruiting efforts had been so far stunningly unsuccessful, despite a very well crafted and intelligent propaganda campaign. Parliament’s unity was far from unchallenged as well; there was a strong peace party, and royalist MPs were steadily sneaking away from the capital. But Parliament had appointed a Military Commander in the Earl of Essex; they had all the goodies from the national arsenal in London, and the northern arsenal from Hull to boot. And although the quality of England’s trained band could be compared unfavourably with a British Rail sandwich from the 1970s – not a high bar let me assure you – but the best in the country were the trained bands in London. The clever money was on the ball being in the back of the king’s net and him brought to heel by Christmas.

Today we are going to hear how Charles capitalised on the successful propaganda appeals he’d made to the people and stand that expectation on its head. His rallying cry of stability, church and social order, and the deeply entrenched custom of reverence for the monarchy was a powerful rallying cry.

By the time Charles set off from Nottingham after 22nd August, to work his way through the midlands recruiting, military confrontations had already taken place. In July the earl of Hertford had tried to execute the king’s commission of array in Somerset, establishing himself at Wells – but the people of Somerset were having absolutely none of that; they came in streams, rivers – cascades. Reports suggest that no fewer than 12,000 assembled from Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset. When they got there, they loudly insisted that he sling his hook. Hertford hastily so slung, and indeed slunk, bank to the friendly Lord Digby’s castle there to sulk.

A few days before Charles left Nottingham, there had been a mass confrontation of armed retinues at Warwick where contingents from both parties had faced each other, fired vicious salvos of rhetoric at each other – but backed away before swords were drawn or muskets fired. The royalists returned to lay siege to Warwick castle – but were driven off by contingents that included Lord Brooke, and John Hampden and the regiment of Greencoats he had raised in Buckinghamshire. There were some shots fired, a few royalists were killed; it is one of the claimants for first battle of the civil war, but we are not really there yet.

As Charles worked his way from Nottingham through the Midlands he had only 800 men under his command. The countryside was described by one observer as

A cockpit, spurring against each other

He headed for Coventry and its royalist mayor and county magazine – and was driven off by shots fired from the walls by the citizens of the city. By September, Charles was in Shrewsbury in the west near to the Welsh borders, and things were looking grim; it was pointed out to him that there were three parliamentary armies to his south as he marched, and any one of which could have destroyed him at any point on his progress from Nottingham. That none of them did, including Essex I should say, seemed like nothing short of a miracle. But the news really wasn’t good for him; in addition to his dusty reception on the march to Shrewsbury, the Navy which had declared for Parliament and commanded by Warwick, was doing its best to prevent supplies reaching Charles from HM’s efforts abroad. Warwick had secured the Isle of Wight, and worst of all, taken control of Portsmouth. This was critical; Charles and HM had identified this as the best port for supplies to reach the king from the continent – they would need to find another route. Charles had been shocked at the navy’s desertion of his cause and now he was feeling the impact. The moderates around Charles even persuaded him to send out feelers to parliament for more discussions; rejected of course, as he almost certainly hoped and expected.

In London, Essex was gathering men and militia, training and doing his best to equip them at camps covering the Artillery Grounds and Tothill fields outside the city walls. He inspired confidence did our Essex; the well-being of his men was important to him and they loved him for it, he was of an ancient very grand house, and had a reputation for great experience from the Thirty Years war. We’ve heard of Essex before, you might remember, as the man whose first wife, Frances Howard, had made him a laughing stock by getting an annulment based on sexual incompetence; his second marriage was turning out little better, with constant rumours of his wife’s infidelities. This was a fact of which Essex would be regularly and unkindly reminded on royalist banners during the war – ‘Cuckold we Come’ one of them read. Nothing like a bit of soldier bant.

But in London, they didn’t mind about that, around the muster fields his coach was often mobbed by adoring crowd – Essex would save them all! [1]In fact his real military experience was actually pretty limited, and to defensive operations at that; and his experience had taught him to be super cautious. He would rather lumber his way through the coming wars, constantly slow and reaction. However, on 9th September 1642, banners flying, drummers a-drumming, pipers piping but presumably without the leaping lords or dancing ladies, Essex left London and started to pursue his king with orders to rescue him from the evil counsellors surrounding the poor lamb. He called a general muster at Northampton, realised none of the people who came has any idea of what to do with a pike or a musket, so sat down to train them for a wee while.

Now, there’s a certain trope in dramas which follow the lines of Alfred and the story of the Egbert Stone. You know the one – the king, leader, warlord or whatever is down and out on his or her uppers completely out of it, their cause is dead, Boudicca is alone. Bravely, they make a last desperate call, for all the people loyal and true to meet at a special place on a special day. For days they travel until they arrive at the special place the night before the special day and despair with a special despair, their cause is lost! There is no one there, the fields and woods lie empty, nothing stirs but the odd bird or maybe a rabbit. But wait? What is this? There is a sound, a rustling, a few people approach…no wait…there are more than a few…and over the hill more come, then more until thousands are waving cheering and playing on bagpipes, all of them usually unfeasibly healthy. On they march, baddies die bad deaths, Wishbone Ash play the king has come in the background and everyone lives happily ever after.

Well I’m not saying this is exactly what happens at Shrewsbury, but it kind of does. Charles’ strategies start paying off. The chaos of iconoclasm and social upheaval was putting the wind in various places it had no right to be – there were riots in Chelmsford and the Stour valley, the local and deeply unpopular Lucas family were forced to take refuge in the Town jail; there were enclosure riots in the west and the fens.

The King’s appeal of order, church and tradition sounded increasingly on the money. Tactically, he switched from trying to raise troops through Commissions of Array, widely viewed with suspicion and accused of being illegal without parliament, to granting commissions to individual great men to raise contingents under their own auspices. At the same time Parliament was busy taking aim with a pistol at it’s foot and squeezing the trigger, issuing an ordinance that anyone fighting for the king could have their possession seized; which encouraged a bunch of landowners to take the opposite view, and rush to king’s side so that he would won and would protect their property.

And so they started to come; the Earl of Derby brought three regiments of foot from Lancashire, landowners in Wales, Cheshire and Staffordshire recruited 11 more regiments. And many Catholics responded too. I mean it has to be said they had very little to thank the king for; in fact Charles had publicly declared that

No papist of what degree or quality soever shall be admitted to serve in our army[2]

But he fibbed, frankly, he’d take what he was given, and it would be a public relations problem, but in the short term was bacon-saving. Catholics raised money for him too – in the counties around Shrewsbury they paid over £5000 to him as advances for recusancy fines. Which feels very odd; sort of ‘you know I’m due to persecute you next year, could we bring that forward a bit?’

He was also joined by 2,000 men under the command of one of the most famous characters of the civil wars; I speak of Prince Rupert of the Palatinate of the Rhine. He’s a flamboyant character in the popular story of the civil wars – long flowing locks, lovely doggy at his side, a big poodle type thing called Boy – and who can resist a young, good looking rich boy with floppy haircut, a doggy and a drop top? You can expect me to do some debunking of this story – he didn’t have a drop top I should point out, or even a top knot – but some of it’s true. Grant me the indulgence of giving the young 22 year old a bit of back story.

Rupert was a younger son of Frederick and Elizabeth of the Palatinate of course. He had 13 siblings two of whom, his elder Charles Louis and his younger bro’ Maurice, was also with him in England; Charles Louis would soon leave and not be a king fan it has to be said. They’d had a tough ish childhood all of them, on the run and poorer than they’d like – obviously all things are relative. Rupert’s Dad was a rather morose sort of chap, but Rupert took after his mother, Elizabeth – energetic and lively, assertive, a mad keen hunter, wild spender of money. Her children adored her. Rupert was all sorts – tall for the age at 6 foot, athletic, strong, great dancer cutting the very best of shapes, a tremendous tennis player of which his elder brother Charles Louis disapproved – because he played it so hard he actually sweated, which is so vulgar. There’s a lovely line from his biographer that ‘Even his mother remarked on Rupert’s angelic appearance’. Even? Even? Isn’t that what mothers do, isn’t there something about rose tinted spectacles? Anyway, Nor was Rupert’s head just a hat rack – he was an accomplished mathematician, he knew his history, his art and spoke several languages.

That all sounds great; but equally he was badly behaved, headstrong, impetuous, and had a bad temper bigger than Cromwell’s wart, so much so he acquired the family nickname le diable, the devil. He’d fought in the thirty years war from the age of 16 and proved his talent as a brave cavalry commander – though he’d spent most of his time, 3 years of it banged up. But while he sat in prison, he studied artillery and matters military, for which he had a passion and gained great knowledge. He’d visited England in the 16 thirties, and was dedicated to his uncle Charles and to his cause; he would be fiercely loyal and dedicated. Charles paid close attention to him for much of the time, and he was a constant advisor for a bold and aggressive strategy, in line with the urgings of HM and George Digby, against the moderation of Hyde and his party of civilian advisors.

It’s not surprising that Rupert gets a good press; he is, in a word dashing. But there’s a dark side to Rupert. Although much of his military knowledge came from books, he brought with him the habit of the thirty Years war, of armies living off the land, and he would prove, on multiple occasions to be unusually violent and responsible for the sacking of a number of towns, worst of all Birmingham and Leicester. He was entitled, violent and petulant; HM knew what he was like, and warned Charles against a young man she’d spar with over the years. He was,

‘capable of doing anything’

She warned, and advised

‘He should have someone to advise him, for believe me, he is yet very young and self-willed. I have experience of him’[3].

Jonathan Healey rather memorably summarised him as ‘a thuggish toff’, which sounds a bit anachronistic, but not unfair.

It was Rupert, though, who brought the first scent of royalist victory at Powick Bridge on 23rd September. Essex was on the march at last, advancing west towards Worcester, where a parliamentarian detachment caught a royalist one retreating from Oxford to join the king. In a sharp engagement, Rupert’s cavalry charge put the parliamentarian cavalry to flight. Although it was a small engagement, only maybe 50 men killed on either side, the parliamentary commander Sandys was killed and it was a tremendous boost for royalist morale. And when Essex’s main army entered Worcester a few days later they disgraced themselves, vandalising the cathedral, smashing images and statues and weeing in the font in the name of the rejection of superstition. Charles was delighted – it was a better recruiter than any poster.

By the end of September, Charles’ situation and mood had gone through the wringer. During his nadir at the end of August he had been reported to be in agony at the thought of needing to negotiate with parliament,

In so great an agony …he had not slept two hours the whole night[4]

His despair was probably not helped by the stream, of letters from HM, urging him to do better

I should never have quitted England because you will have rendered my journey ridiculous, having broken all the resolutions that you and I have taken, save going to York, and there doing nothing’[5]

Ouch, thank you darling. But HM had now delivered better than sharp words; her first shipment of arms and munitions, bought by pawning her jewels, had evaded Warwick’s naval blockade and reached Charles. His army had swollen and swollen – and was now at least the equal of the parliamentary army under Essex, maybe 14,000 strong. He was back in business, the greatest come back since Lazarus. By the start of October, it was now reported by one

I never saw the king better

In council there was a feeling now of bullishness – this was going their way; a correspondent wrote in code

The king is of late very much averse to peace, by the persuasions of 102 and 111

102 and 111 were probably Digby and Prince Rupert. It might be worth recording the discussion Charles would have in a few months with his friend Hamilton, which showed that the memory of Strafford was still raw and red in his mind, steeling his determination to fight, because only war would show if God had forgiven him for having broken his word.

For I will either be a glorious king or a patient martyr

Meanwhile HM was also writing urging Charles on to

Secure the glory you may have…

And pouring scorn on counsels of the unambitious and lily-livered moderates like Hyde

as for believing that they would wish to see you absolute, their counsels visibly show the contrary

HM was absolutely right; Edward Hyde, remember, had started this business supporting the Junto’s mission to rebalance the powers of crown and commons. The moderates on the king’s Council were very much opposed to the idea of the King being absolute, and urged Charles to continue the strategy he’d followed so well, of moderation, emphasising tradition.

And although Charles now ordered his army to move towards London, he listened to the voices of moderation. He made a proclamation to his army that was immediately published and widely distributed, another manifesto effectively, probably written again by Hyde.

He shall meet no enemies but traitors…most of them Brownists, Anabaptists and atheists, such as desire to destroy both church and state

And followed it with a royal oath to defend the Church of England, governed by ‘the known laws of the land’ and protect the ‘just privileges and freedom of parliament’

You could almost hear the eye rolling from across the Channel. HM was furious at this public moderation – now was the time for Charles to become the monarch he always should have been

Had I been with you I should not have suffered it…I beg you be a little more careful in the oaths you take

From 12th October, after consulting his council of war, Charles’ main army began leaving Shrewsbury on the first and hopefully last campaign to crush the viper’s head of rebellion, and regain the London he had left. They knew Essex and his 14,000 men were somewhere, but did not want to get bogged down and so tried to give them a wide berth – slightly tricky because neither army had yet to develop the talents and habits of experienced military commanders, and so had little scouting organisations. Basically, each of the commanders had only a very vague idea of where each other were with there 14,000 men, artillery and cloud of camp followers.

A note on this. As previously emphasised, England was generally very demilitarised. It was a country with largely only out of date and decaying fortifications, no standing army, Charles himself had absolutely zip experience of commanding anything more than his own toilet facilities. But that’s not to say that there was no experience. Tens of thousands of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish young men had gone to fight in the wars on the continent. There were many who had come back with command experience, and the English, including Charles were not silly enough to ignore them. So many commanders had experienced military men at their side to help; Charles would leave all the military dispositions in the forthcoming battle to an experienced Scottish commander, Lord Ruthven; the Duke of Newcastle, Charles’ general in the North had another experienced Scottish adviser, John Hampden’s foot regiment was commanded by a man with experience of fighting for the French. Both sides were aware of the main strategies of army displacements – particularly the Swedish or Dutch models. So, inexperienced, true, unsophisticated yes, behind the times, certainly; but clueless – no.

Essex lumbered out of Worcester on 19th October, broadly aware that the king was on the move, and had passed through Birmingham where the locals had yelled abuse, and was on the way towards London; probably heading first for Banbury and it’s county arsenal. So Essex headed east to try and cut the king off and relieve Banbury. And on the night of 22nd he reached the market town of Kineton, and settled down for the night.

Unbeknownst to them, near a ridge called Edgehill, was the royalist army. Charles knew Essex was at Kineton, because Rupert’s men had come across some strange soldiers looking for lodgings – turned out they were rebels, so they nabbed them.

Rupert wanted a midnight attack – the rebels are clueless, scattered, let’s attack now and have ‘em. Charles was too cautious for that but instead gave orders for his forces to concentrate at the 300 foot slope of Edgehill, looking down on Kineton below.

Meanwhile, Essex was blissfully unaware, and was just off to church at 8am the following morning, 23rd October, when someone noticed that hey there’s a bunch of soldiers gathering on that hill over there. The cat was released among the pigeons, there were feathers everywhere, orders were issued from the cloud of feathers. Essex did not feel confident enough to attack so he drew up his men in the valley below the hill, as the royalist commanders watched and debated what to do.

It took some hours to achieve his formation. By and large I am at this point going to avoid going too much into detailed stuff om military formations, on the slightly cowardly grounds that I’ll probably get it wrong, but can I just say that Essex favoured a Dutch formation which was considered simpler. As a general scheme, the infantry, pike and musket were in the centre, with cavalry on the wings plus a small reserve at the back, dragoons right out on the wings causing trouble and slowing the enemy down. Field Artillery tended to be in pairs at the front at the beginning of the war, and will generally not be very effective.

Now there was something of a full and frank exchange of views going on in Charles’ council of war. Charles was something of a believer in rank; as a king I suspect it rather goes with the territory. It meant that he had given Rupert a roving brief, subject to nobody’s orders but only his, Charles’. This thing about precedence and rank would be a feature of the royal military cause throughout; the practice of commissioning individuals to raise contingents generally also meant an army with too many chefs and insufficient sous chefs. Rupert in addition was not shy of offering the benefit of his opinion, and it led to those full and frank exchanges I was talking about, with the supposed supreme commander of the royalist army, The earl of Lindsey. Lindsey favoured a Dutch formation that he’d learned in the 30Y wars, Rupert said phooey, Swedish it must be. The Swedish formation it is said gave greater firepower but was more complex and required better training and drilling; which of course these green troops did not have. However Charles ruled in his nephew’s favour over the army’s commander. Lindsey didn’t take it well, it has to be said

Since his majesty thought him not fit to perform the office of commander in chief, he would serve him as a colonel

He said, distinctly sniffily I think it’s fair to say. He stalked off to his regiment of foot, stalked I tell you. He insisted his regiment be placed opposite Essex in the hottest part of the coming action.

Charles perceived that Essex had no intention of attacking, especially not up that 300 foot hill. And so over the next couple of hours, the royalist army helpfully moved down and faced their enemies in the valley. Charles started a pretty speech,

Your king bids you be courageous, and heaven make you victorious

the sound of Huzzahs echoed across the valley, so Essex ordered his artillery to fire at them and so Charles  – stopped.

Now look I think there are often too many names, so sorry for what follows, but it seems to me one of those aspects of the civil war, especially at the start, is that so many of these folks we’ve heard about now pick up arms in defence of their words. John Lillburne the radical and future leveller whose conviction and punishment at the hands of the Star Chamber had been such a cause celebre, he was there in Essex’s army, would fight bravely and become a colonel of cavalry. His brother Henry Lilburne was facing him on the other side, from the royalist ranks. There were many divided families; a young man called Basil Fielding faced his father William; Basil’s mother Susan had pleaded with him continually not to side with parliament

Let me entreat you to look back upon me and upon yourself whose ruin I see clearly before my eyes

Young Basil had stuck to his guns. Denzil Holles the MP who’d held the Speaker in his chair in 1629, he was there fighting bravely in the infantry. Hampton and Cromwell were on the way but Cromwell only got to fight at the very end. Edmund Verney meanwhile, the reluctant but loyal commander whose son’s dedication to the parliamentary cause had broken his heart, was by the king, performing the Knight Marshal’s role of standard bearer. He had sworn that no one should take it from his hands while he lived.  Meanwhile William Harvey, the guy who codified the circulation of the blood, in the 1620s,which I rather missed, he was at the battle too, as the king’s physician. He wasn’t fighting though; instead he’d brough a good book with him, and sat under a hedge until a bullet came uncomfortably close and he was forced to turn a page corner over to mark his spot and move away.

I mean there’s more but that’s enough. So after a rather unimpressive exchange of artillery and a bit of skirmishing, Rupert decided this had gone on quite long enough, let’s get on with it. But he knew his business did our Rupy; and so Dragoons were sent ahead to clear out the opposing parliamentary dragoons on the flanks put there to pepper any advancing cavalry with a bit of musket; and aim at horses, of course, which were particularly vulnerable. Dragoons, then. are mounted infantry, lightly armed and armoured, sent nipping around the place to cause trouble in inconvenient places. Dogsbodies of all trades by and large. Once done, Rupert’s cavalry on the right wing began to advance. And we are off.

The way this worked traditionally was that you attacked in a wedge or diamond shaped formation, knee to knee with your fellow riders if you could, but that would be difficult to maintain. You had a pistol or carbine in your hand, other hand holding the reins under the pommel of the saddle. Gently you’d go forward at a walk to keep formation, until a hundred yards away from the people you hope shortly to call losers, then get as fast as you can – probable no more than a hurried trot or canter. When you got there you’d fire your pistol at your man, and then maybe throw the thing at his head if you missed, reach for another pistol if you had time, or if not straight to the sword, and start hacking. The horsemen facing them would have stood in close formation, stationary, knees locked, waiting to fire until the very last moment. If they held formation they would win. If their formation was broken, they were toast and would turn and flee.

That is what happened here. The parliamentary horse fired their carbines too early, they panicked, Rupert’s men were amongst them, and they fled for their lives. Later that night after all was done, Cromwell would discuss this with his mate John Hampden, with the view that the parliamentary horsemen were

Most of them old decayed serving men and tapsters and such kind of fellows

While the royalist were

Gentlemen’s sons, younger sons and persons of quality

Famously of course Cromwell’s solution was not to recruit men of similar social class, but instead recruit men of spirit and commitment to the cause for which they fought

Men of a spirit that is likely to go on as far as gentlemen will go, or else I am sure you will be beaten still.

Even more famously, Cromwell will recruit his own Ironsides on the principle

I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a Gentle-man and is nothing else.

Anyway, back to Edgehill; where the parliamentary left were blown away. On the other side of the field exactly the same happened. The pursuit went on until Rupy and his men came to the parliamentary camp at Kineton. And got stuck into some good solid pillaging and looting. I mean – silly not to. I always imagine bed clothes being pillaged for some reason, always have since I was a kiddie. An image I can’t shift.

Now this a good central part of the story of Edgehill and indeed the civil wars as I was taught it with my mother’s milk was that this is just typical – bloody Rupert, wild uncontrolled fly by night with his floppy hair and his unbridled passion. Why didn’t he go back to the battle? Well the truth as I now hear is that cavalry returning to the battle was vanishingly rare; everyone was way too scattered about to manage that, the horses would be knackered anyway, so might as well get on with pillaging and see if you could pick yourself out a nice pair of silk pants. So they kept on pillaging until John Hampden’s foot regiment arrived, and drive them off, like driving crows from the crop.

No, the role of the cavalry for the rest of the battle was to be played by the cavalry held in reserve – that’s what they were there for. So the real crime of unbridled passion was not Ruperts; it was Lord Byron, whose reserve cavalry, the Life Guard, seeing all the fun & laughter, joined in and charged after them. Also, someone had mocked the Life Guards for standing there at the back and called them the ‘troop of show’, so honour demanded they get involved and become a troop of showing how manly there were. They’d fully expected the parliamentary oiks to run like the peasants they were anyway, this just confirmed it, better not miss out. So there was only a tiny contingent of royalist cavalry left on the field. While parliament’s reserve cavalry stayed just where it was. So you see – you can’t always trust your mother’s milk. Incidentally, Byron’s cavalry escapade left Edmund Verney unprotected there at the back. Note bene.

Well, sensing blood and victory, Sir Jacob Astley the commander of the royalist infantry in the centre drew a deep breath and bowed his head momentarily

Oh lord thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget you, do not thou forget me

And so another famous quote of the civil wars was born. ‘March on boys!’ he then yelled, and so they advanced – 10,000 against 6,000 parliamentarian foot. It was push of pike, and continual raking musket fire. Blood mud, screams and howls. Neither side gave an inch, and this was where Lindsey fought. This is where Lindsey was hit in the leg by a musket bullet, a wound that would kill him.

Now Essex had played it by the book – he was a play it by the book kinda guy to be fair. His reserve cavalry were still in place, and he used them now, and used them wisely. Into the infantry they charged, an infantry not prepared for cavalry, with none of their own cavalry to defend them, and therefore finding it difficult to adjust. The intervention had saved the battle for parliament. Both sides were now exhausted and started to withdraw.

It was too late for Edmund Verney though. He had been caught up in vicious hand to hand fighting in the chaos caused by the cavalry charge, and wielded the standard as a pike. His manservant was killed beside him, but he cut his killer down, then embedded the standard in the guts of another soldier – but then went down and the royal standard fell with him. This was a coup. A parliamentary ensign, Arthur Young, seeing the royal standard fall, and over joyed at this stroke of luck, leapt forward to take the standard back as a trophy to Essex. But try as he might, he could not tear it from the dead, cold, relentlessly loyal grip of the dead Verney. So – he hacked off the hand, and took it back in triumph and presented it to Essex. And Verney’s vow was fulfilled. Not that Arthur had it for long. John Smith ripped off his royalist colours, put on an orange parliamentary sash, found the standard, and half inched it right back, returned to his lines and presented it to his king. Charles, delighted to have something to celebrate, turned him from John Smith into Sir John Smith.  Such are the tales of honour, glory and daring do with which I filled my youth.

Well, there it is the first major engagement of the English revolution, by golly by gum. How was it for you? I must at some point do a military episode so that I can explain military formations, artillery, siege warfare and all the rest as back ground for the next few years – something to look forward to then you lucky, lucky things you.

The next morning, neither side felt strong enough to continue. Both had lost about 1,500 men in the fight, and both declared that they’d won an absolutely stonking victory well done me. But although it’s accounted a draw, in one key aspect it was a royal victory, because Charles held the battle field. I mean you might sneer that was just a slab of rather churned up turf in Warwickshire, a county not short of churned up turf, but since Essex had retreated northward to Warwick, it left the road to London empty and unguarded. Nothing stood between Charles and the capital. With Essex behind him, now Charles had his chance to march on London, finish the job and wreak vengeance on the rebels that had defied his royal authority.

For the Verney’s however, the battle was never over; despite searching, his grieving and slightly guilty-feeling son Ralph was never able to find his father’s body– it had been buried in a mass  grave. And before long, over the battle field and in the woods at his house at Claydon, was seen the ghostly figure of Edmund Verney, searching for his lost hand.

[1] Healey, J: ‘The Blazing World’, p171

[2] Woolrych, A: ‘Britain in Revolution’, p237

[3] De Lisle, L: Henrietta Maria’, p226

[4] Cust, R: Charles I: A political Biography’, p359

[5] De Lisle, L: Henrietta Maria’, p225



3 thoughts on “384 The Breaking Storm

  1. David,
    Thanks so much for the latest episode, really enjoyed it as ever! And especially because my mother’s family hale from that part of Warwickshire, in fact my grandparents lived in Radway for many years. A very long time ago I went to see a reenactment of the Battle, and I must say that your description brought it vividly back to life! I learned a few things I didn’t know too, which is always nice!
    One small factoid: when pronouncing the name ‘Kineton’, the first syllable rhymes with ‘Pine’ or ‘Mine’ but with a ‘K’, and the e is not heard separately – so ‘Kine – ton’.
    Looking forward to the next one!

  2. I love all History of England episodes, but I don’t think I’ve heard you quite as animated and happy as in this one, especially during the section about Prince Rupert and his mum. It was a real treat, a treat of treats even.

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